Sothebys Sends Its Chief Auctioneer Packing

Sothebys Sends Its Chief Auctioneer Packing
By Original uploader: User:VolatileChemical ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Going once, going twice, sold.” Nope, not sold just gone. Sothebys (NYSE:BID) chief auctioneer, the German born Tobias Meyer, will soon leave the auction house based on pressure from activist investors Daniel Loeb and others.

Meyer not only held the position of chief auctioneer but also the title Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art at the 269-year-old auction house.

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Meyer’s dismissal

With Daniel Loeb’s Third Point, the largest share holder in Sothebys (NYSE:BID), calling for a wholesale change in how Sotheby’s conducts its business, it was does not come as a tremendous surprise that Meyer is leaving. He wasn’t sacked per se, but Sotheby’s showed little to no interest in offering him a contract extension.

In a statement, Sothebys (NYSE:BID) Chief Executive Officer Bill Ruprecht said that with Meyer’s contract expiring soon, “we all agreed it was time to part ways.”

Sotheby’s declined to comment on the terms of his release.

“Tobias Meyer is a respected figure and has been at the center of signature moments in Sothebys (NYSE:BID) history for more than 20 years and we are grateful for all of his contributions,” Ruprecht said.

Ruprecht has been the primary target of Loeb, an art collector himself, for some time in a bid to see Sothebys return more money to its shareholders.

Meyer leaves after Sothebys after record sale

To call Meyer an auctioneer is a bit of a misnomer; Meyer frequently jetted around the world in search of both buyers and sellers. This behind-the-scenes work is part and parcel of the job and a contributing reason to Sothebys (NYSE:BID) enjoying its record sale this month.

Last week saw Meyer auction off Andy Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash” for $104.5 million last week, part of a $380 million aggregate sale.

Unfortunately, this was overshadowed by a sale in which uber-rival Christie’s earned $691.5 million. Damn you, Francis Bacon! Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” sold for $142.4 million as the cornerstone of the sale.

Sothebys search for auctioneer will be hard

Sothebys (NYSE:BID) will have to work quite hard to find an auctioneer of Meyer’s acumen whose timing and sense of humor saw him drive bidding higher almost at a whim. But then again, State Fair season is over and a number of suspendered, fast-talking auctioneers are certainly polishing up their resumes. I mean what’s the difference between a champion hog and an oil painting worth upwards of $100 million?

“I will always cherish my time at Sothebys (NYSE:BID) and look forward to the next chapter in my career,” Meyer said in the statement released by the company.

While Sotheby’s adopted a poison pill to hold off Loeb’s Third Point Reinsurance Ltd (NYSE:TPRE), it was not enough to save Meyer’s job. It’s hard to envision him, and his contacts, going anywhere farther than Christie’s.

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